How wireless technologies will impact the 2012 presidential election

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During each election season, candidates for local and national governmental roles pour millions of dollars into campaign advertising. And every four years, during the U.S. presidential elections, this number increases dramatically due to ads from candidates themselves as well as ads from third-party political organizations, PACs, public interest groups and political parties.

But there is a new factor influencing the polls this year: The rising number of smartphone users (around half of adult Americans) who are reading political news on their phones, interacting with political apps and viewing mobile ads.

The 2008 election was noteworthy for its strong social media presence, with sites like Twitter and Facebook helping candidates and potential voters share news, pictures, video and sound bites instantly. And the 2012 election should augment that trend and enhance it with wireless. Candidates for any office this year wouldn't even consider excluding social media from their campaigns, given how much time people spend using social sites. And mobile ought to follow on with that effort.

"2012 is about mobile," said Kristen Soltis in April, according to Politico. Soltis is a Republican political consultant who works for The Winston Group, which provided polling services for Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign. "Being able to build new and cool apps that let your supporters do cool things will become more and more normal."

CNN Election Center for iOS, Android and BlackBerry

Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group warned, however, that mobile isn't a save all, in the way that social media was for the 2008 election.

"Certainly the social networks played a role in the last election, but a lot of things with regard to mobile haven't been working well for even advertising," said Enderle, in an interview with FierceMobileContent. He said mobile likely will have a greater effect in getting people to events or out to the polls, rather than influencing a voter's opinion.

Campaign advertisements to boost mobile ad market

In February, mobile application analytics firm Flurry dissected 2011 U.S. ad spending as compared to how much time consumers spent accessing that type of media. The big winner was television, which accounted for 43 percent of ad spend and 40 percent of viewers. However, the media getting the smallest share of ad revenues also occupied the second greatest share of user's time--only 1 percent of ad spend last year was poured into mobile, despite users spending 23 percent of their media time accessing mobile media.

With Mitt

Mitt Romney's official With Mitt app

2011, however, wasn't an election year. This year, thanks in large part to a Supreme Court ruling that allows unlimited campaign donations, spending on advertising should blossom, and mobile should reap the benefits.

This means mobile developers and content publishers who rely on mobile advertising as income likely will see a boost in the number of advertisers and ads. Beneficiaries could be mobile gaming companies that rely on ad revenues, like Zynga, and mobile ad networks like Google's AdMob and Apple's iAd.

A market for election-themed apps

Alongside an increase in spending on advertising, the mobile market should also see an increase in the number of apps devoted to the election, whether for a particular candidate or about a certain issue.

Larger news organizations already have election-themed spinoff apps for the 2012 presidential election such as NYTimes Election 2012 for iOS and Android, CNN Mobile Election Center for iOS, Android and BlackBerry and NBC Politics for iOS. In addition, the market now has an influx of election results apps, news aggregator apps, candidate-specific apps and apps that feature mobile video of debates and other television appearances.

Campaigns and news organizations may also devote energies toward HTML5 websites, which could take the place of native smartphone apps or supplement native apps.

It's Obama vs. Romney in mobile

Individual candidates also market their own apps, which can help connect campaigners and potential voters, as well as spread ideas through social networks. 

Barack Obama has already made his interest in the rising prevalence of mobile clear. In May, the President issued "Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People," which pushes government agencies to make two or more services available via mobile within the next 12 months.

"Americans deserve a government that works for them anytime, anywhere, and on any device," said Obama in a statement.

The President's interest in mobile isn't limited to his current actions in office, however. The President's re-election campaign took an early start by releasing its Organizing for America app for the 2012 election back in 2010.

President Barack Obama's reelection app, Organizing for America

As for challenger Mitt Romney, his "With Mitt" app debuted in May. However, Romney's app made headlines mainly because the app incorrectly spelled America as "Amercia" in the campaign slogan listed within the app. Few voters are likely to change opinion based on a small error in an app, but the mistake did later go viral on Twitter and inspire its own Tumblr.

Enderle noted that President Obama and Mitt Romney currently employ markedly different strategies in terms of their mobile campaigns. "Obama is more aggressive in terms of managing perceptions in terms of mobile," he explained. "As for Romney, it's almost as if he doesn't exist" in mobile. Enderle said that while Romney has supporters releasing apps and working on mobile social initiatives, there isn't much coming from the official campaign.

Neither the Obama campaign nor the Romney campaign responded to FierceMobileContent's request for comment.

The advantages of mobile in an election year

But why is mobile important in a campaign? Mobile offers a range of technologies that could help candidates influence and mobilize voters. For example, the Romney campaign has already started taking advantage of location-based advertising to reach out to potential voters in swing states during the primaries.

"If you're in one of the battleground states or in a highly contested gubernatorial race, mobile and location targeting is already in play and early results indicate those programs are having a strong impact on those races," said Greg Hallinan, chief marketing officer at Verve Wireless, in an interview with Mobile Marketer.

Hallinan predicted that location-based advertising for candidates at the national and state level this election season will have as big of an impact as targeted SMS efforts in 2008.

But what does that mean for content providers and app makers looking to sell political ad space or create apps for a given campaign? Is one campaign a better bet to back over another?

Mobile marketing and advertising provider Velti, in conjunction with Harris Interactive, recently surveyed voters nationwide about their voting preferences in the upcoming presidential election. They found that 49 percent of smartphone owners would vote for President Barack Obama, while only 31 percent would vote for Mitt Romney. In contrast, Velti reported that Mitt Romney is leading in traditional polls.

"The results of this survey demonstrate that the smartphone market is becoming a whole new demographic that candidates must take into consideration when building a comprehensive campaign strategy," explained Krishna Subramanian, CMO of Velti.

"Clearly, mobile advertising is emerging as an influential medium and a distinct audience. We are just beginning to see a more strategic use of this platform, such as Mitt Romney's iAd campaign, and believe that others will follow suit. More importantly, the survey results reveal that greater intelligence in understanding the behavior of this emerging demographic can be a critical differentiator in brand awareness and consumer behavior across any number of markets and applications," added Subramanian.

As to how polling data will change in regards to targeted localized advertising efforts remains to be seen. "Honestly I don't think we're going to see a big push until we're close into the election, so that we don't tire people out. We're going to see increasingly tactical tools that people use at the last minute," said Enderle.

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